When I teach project managers about Project Lessons Learned for the single project case—that is, when a project manager identifies, documents, and shares lessons learned from a recently completed project—I emphasize three areas upon which they must focus their attention to in order to determine Significant Events for Lessons Learned. The three areas are (1) Facts; (2) Perspectives; and (3) Deliverables.
Today, I am going to discuss the second aspect with you–Perspectives.
The end objective of a Project Closeout and Lessons Learned exercise is to determine “actionable” changes that can be made to basic processes in order to improve performance of projects and the organization in total. “Actionable” changes need to be agreed to by the organization’s participants so they are committed to the changes, and work to sustain the changes over time. And someone in the organization needs to be assigned the role to make the process changes, so that the actionable lessons learned fit easily into a “continuous improvement framework” for the organization.
To provide better understanding of “perspectives,” let’s give a definition and an example.
Perspectives are different viewpoints which people may feel or express about a situation or an action or an event which represents their interpretation about the “truth” of the situation as they perceive it. An example would be the following exchange recently between David Gregory, moderator of the NBC News Program “Meet the Press” and a Republican Candidate for the Presidency.
Mr. Gregory: “Mr. Candidate, isn’t it true that none of your colleagues in the Congress have not endorsed your Candidacy for the Presidency?”
Candidate: “The truth, Mr. Gregory, is that I have not asked any of my colleagues from the Congress to endorse me yet. I will at the appropriate time.”
You see from this exchange that each person expressed a viewpoint about the same situation or potential action or event that represented their own interpretation of what was “true” for them in their business, social or political context.
Sometimes perspectives are reconcilable and sometimes they are not. Two parties may continue to disagree about the “truth” of a given situation. In this case, they cannot agree whether it was a Significant Event or how significant the event was to the overall outcome of their work. Reconcilable perspectives are important in agreeing upon what really happened in a given situation.
Because project participants bring many different viewpoints to projects as to what was significant, and as to what really took place in the project, each of the project participants possess what I term “perspectives.”
Perspectives are viewpoints that capture the truth as perceived by the viewer. However, as we have alluded to many times, people act in accordance with the “truth” as they individually perceive it to be. Project participants often “perceive” different outcomes and actions in projects and disagree about what really took place. That is why I advocate starting with FACTS, the statements and data that no one can refute.
Timing is also very important for gathering and processing “perspectives.” The closer to the project lessons learned exercise the perspectives were documented, the more they will reflect what truly happened in the project. If we allow much time to pass from project close to the capturing of lessons learned, the perspectives will often be colored by other experiences that the project participants have been involved with after completion of the project.
A principle of Lou Tice’s is that “[p]eople act in accordance with the TRUTH as they perceive it to be.” Their definition of a project’s Significant Event may be different from yours if they see a different TRUTH in the actions or outcomes of the project. Reconciling different perspectives, and gaining agreement about the TRUTHS of a project, are often critical to gathering Significant Events and then qualifying them as Candidates for Project Lessons Learned.
Project Managers and other project team facilitators must be adept at sorting out the feelings that project participants, sponsors, steering committee members, and subject matter experts express about TRUTHS and OUTCOMES in a project.
Even very experienced project managers often find it difficult to sort out and deal with the various “Perspectives” that project participants bring to the table to discuss as part of a Project Lessons Learned exercise. Practice in identifying Project Lessons Learned, and in sharing with others, is a major step toward building an internal organizational capability to develop “actionable” Project Lessons Learned that can contribute to a “Continuous Process Improvement” Framework for a project team or organization.
Another aspect of reconciling perspectives that I have written about extensively in this blog is “reframing.” Project managers and facilitators must be adept at “reframing” positions to bring out the relevant facts and viewpoints that make sense in identifying Significant Events for Project Lessons Learned.
I encourage anyone truly interested in becoming a “curator” for their project environment, in terms of capturing, documenting, sharing, and perpetuating project lessons learned, to practice the flow from “Significant Events” to “Candidates” to full “Lessons Learned” by actively involving themselves in the reconciliation of “Perspectives” in Lessons Learned exercises.
You will be happy that you took the time for focus on identifying and reconciling “Perspectives” because it will provide you with new insights into interpreting events, actions, and feelings on the part of project participants. It will also help you record those TRUTHS about projects that can lead to more in-depth insights into project performance and ongoing project success.
Challenge yourself in the next Project Lessons Learned exercise that you conduct or facilitate for a project team to recognize and appreciate the different PERSPECTIVES and their contributions to fully understanding your project environment and context.